Apple believes strong product aesthetics -- in terms of look, feel, weight, materials, shape, density, texture, and color -- enhance the usefulness of a product by giving users the daily pleasure of using, touching, holding, and looking at something really beautiful. Dieter Rams says aesthetics are important because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. That's why Rams says product aesthetics are integral to a product's usefulness.
People always prefer a beautiful car over an ugly car -- no one says "I'd prefer the ugly car because it's good enough." If you price a beautiful car and an ugly car the same, people will prefer the beautiful car, and that's because people value beautiful things. So that tells you many people will pay more for a beautiful, aesthetically pleasing product, especially if the product is comfortably affordable. Apple products are affordable, accessible versions of a beautiful car.
People thought Apple was silly to spend so much time on the look, materials, thinness, and aesthetic of the iMac. But consumers use this product every day, and people value beautiful objects. So maybe it wasn't silly after all.
If people value aesthetics with products they use every day, then that may not bode well for companies that prioritize low end affordability at the expense of aesthetics. If the aesthetics of everyday consumer products affect our well-being, then this well-being is one of the jobs that everyday consumer products should address. Companies that use cheap materials or accept average product appearance to make a breakeven/profitable low end product do so at their peril: these companies are ignoring one of the jobs that everyday consumer products are hired to perform.
Apple can compete very effectively with low end product companies through a more aesthetically pleasing but still comfortably affordable alternative.
From a brand building/preservation perspective, with everyday consumer products it probably makes sense to start with a high end, beautiful product and then move downmarket rather than start with a low end, ugly product and then try and move upmarket.
From a cost perspective, starting at the high end allows a company to begin with the best materials and the most advanced production methods. After skimming high end profits, the company can then use increased scale and volume to incorporate high end materials/manufacturing into more affordable products. This kind of downmarket move can end up displacing mid-market competitors that have traditionally used cheaper materials/methods, and have therefore never developed the capabilities needed to efficiently apply, at scale, advanced manufacturing methods to high end materials.
Apple has taken high end materials/manufacturing downmarket by using advanced milling machines to incorporate unibody aluminum into most of its devices, and by then making these devices more affordable over time.
The author owns stock shares of Apple.